Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

There’s been so little noise coming from the front offices of the Royals that I thought we dodged a bullet. Normally, it’s around this time where the brain trust finds some scrap-heap starter (Brett Tomko, Sidney Ponson and my personal favorite Joe Mays) and slots them in the back of the rotation.

Yeah, it’s the number five starter on a last place team, so it’s not like it s a huge deal. Although I suppose it’s just kind of soul crushing when you split your season tickets and get a handful of Ponson starts while you are shut out on Greinke.

Anyway, I just figured the Royals would stick with their less than fab five (Greinke, Meche, Bannister, Davies and Hochevar) and that would be that. Kind of boring, but it’s probably the best we can do.

But wait -  It looks like the Royals have a sense of humor.

Start Him Up: Farnsworth To Get A Shot
is the headline of the article on Royals.com that gently breaks the news: Kyle Farnsworth will go to spring training with the opportunity to open the season in the rotation.

Seriously, was the Denkinger call so horrible that we re still paying the baseball gods over 25 years later?

It’s spring training, so it’s still a little early to get bent about this. I’d give it a 45% chance of Farnsworth actually starting. It s that high only because this is the Royals we’re talking about. Farnsworth will go to Surprise needing to get work to get prepared for the upcoming season. It doesn’t matter if that work comes in the first inning or the ninth inning while the club is in Arizona. Innings are irrelevant in the spring. (Early, at least. It’s probably a good idea to play the final week of the Cactus schedule with some kind of regular season plan in mind.)

But hang on to your hat. While I don’t like the idea of moving Farnsworth to the rotation, it’s an interesting move to ponder.

The reasoning behind the push to the rotation has to do with Farnsworth’s development of a third pitch – a two seam fastball that works as a cut fastball. It’s a pitch he began playing with early in 2008 when he was with the Yankees. He didn’t follow up with it at the time for whatever reason, but brought it out of mothballs in the middle of last season.

The cutter is basically a hybrid of his fastball and his slider. It’s lateral movement is about half that of his slider, and it of course features a downward tilt. His average cutter last summer was clocked at 89.5 mph which is right between his fastball (96 mph) and his slider (85 mph).

The result of his new pitch was a ground ball to fly ball ratio that trended to the ground ball side for the first time since 2005. For his career, his GB/FB ratio is 0.94. Last year, it was 1.36. And his air out to ground out ratio was 0.84. Again, that was the closest to even as he s been since 05. It s still off from the major league average of 1.04 AO/GO, but it’s a start.

The extra ground balls were nice, but he was still giving up line drives at a high 20% rate and his batting average on balls in play was a lofty .374. The benefit of the cutter for Farnsworth was it actually helped limit the damage he could have caused by keeping the ball in the park. Am I crazy saying this? I don’t think so. In his previous two seasons before coming to KC, Farnsworth allowed a total of 24 home runs in 120 innings, a home run rate of 1.8 HR/9. Last year, he allowed a total of three home runs in 37 innings for a home run rate of 0.7 HR/9. That s pretty huge.

(Time for a break. Of course two of his three home runs – the three run shot to Thome in the opener and the moon shot to Young in Texas that same month – were absolute gut punches. My theory is that Farnsworth can’t handle the pressure of the late inning situation with the game on the line. The fastball tends to get a little more straight as it were. And elevated. A lot. More on pressure in a few paragraphs.)

Let s take a moment to check out his evolution over the last three years.

FarnsworthRatio

So it’s not altogether crazy that Farnsworth be looked at as a starter. He s developed a third pitch and began to accumulate more ground balls and kept the ball in the park which is a key component of avoiding the big inning.

Still, it’s a bad idea.

Farnsworth will be 34 next year and has spent the last 10 years of his career exclusively in the bullpen. Can you think of any other pitcher who has gone from bullpen to the rotation with a similar story? I can t. Usually, it’s a one way road in the other direction.

As such, the most innings he s thrown in a season since 2000 is 82. And that was back in 2001. In the last five years, he s averaged 58 innings per season. Of course, the Royals would make the effort to stretch him out, but we re talking about an arm that hasn t been stretched out for over a decade. You have to wonder if it has any elasticity left.

And finally, I have come to believe that Farnsworth can be an asset to this team. With the caveat if used properly. Given the fact that he folds like a card table under pressure, he belongs in the sixth and seventh inning. Maybe the eighth if the lead is large enough. Hell, I wouldn’t mind him in the ninth if you have a lead of six or more runs. I mocked his scoreless run in the middle of the season because it came exclusively in low leverage situations, but there is some value in keeping runners off the scoreboard no matter the situation. Farnsworth was quality for a stretch but then the Royals got carried away and inserted him in a couple of tight situations in the late innings and all hell broke loose.

His high leverage struggles as a reliever mean we have to ask how he would do as a starter when the pressure got cranked up a notch or two. With runners on first and third and one out in a tie game in the fourth inning still has less leverage than the same situation in the ninth. We have a pretty good idea what would happen in the ninth. We need to know what would happen in the fourth. That’s the important question.

I think he’d spit the bit no matter what. Farnsworth is best taken in low doses three outs at a time when the game isn’t on the line. Limit the damage he can do and he could still provide some of that value.

He belongs in the pen. After all these years, it’s his home. And he may still be of some value to the Royals as a reliever.

Playing revisionist history with a professional draft, while fun, is unfair. Redraft the new version of the Cleveland Browns and you can get close to having a Pro Bowl player at all twenty-two positions on the field. No general manager can hit on every pick.

That fact is especially true when it comes to Major League Baseball’s draft. Despite all the scouting and all the work, every team passed on Albert Pujols TWELVE times, some even did so thirteen times. Forty-eight players were drafted in front of Carlos Beltran. Zack Greinke was considered a ‘signability’ pick when he went sixth overall in 2002. You get the picture.

So, it is unfair to look back at the Royals’ rather hideous draft record and say “they should have done this here and that the next year and taken these two guys in the 14th and 20th rounds in 2003 and we would be in the World Series”. We are not going to do that sort of exercise today, but I am going to look at one, just one, pick that might have changed the direction of this franchise.

The 2001 draft is one that will life in infamy for the Royals forever. It was headed by Colt Griffin in the first round and Roscoe Crosby in the second round: both unmitigated disasters. Worse, the brief major league appearances by Angel Sanchez and Devon Lowery are the only contributions on the big league level the Royals ever got out of the fifty picks they made that year. This draft stands as the crown jewel of crap among an array of pretty awful drafts in the early part of this century.

Obviously, it also lends itself handily to us revisionists.

The first round of 2001 had Joe Mauer going number one and Mark Texiera going at six, but there are not names that leap off the list after the Royals picked Griffin that make your stomach hurt. Until you get down to the supplemental phase of that round and find David Wright going at pick number thirty-eight and signing for $960,000.

Sure, thirty-eight is a long way removed from nine, but it would not be unheard of for the budget conscious Royals to take a ’30 to 50 level talent’ to save money (Chris Lubanski anyone?). What if the Royals would have picked David Wright instead of Colt Griffin?

First off, Kansas City would have enjoyed a third baseman who has a career line of .309/.389/.518 who has played 144 or more games in every season between 2005 and 2009. He has pop, he can run and has made himself into a decent defender. Wright signed a six year/$55 million dollar extension near the end of the 2006 season, which might have been doable for the Royals – albeit probably in 2007 as Mike Sweeney’s contract was about to come off the books.

Just having David Wright at the hot corner obviously makes the Royals much better, but what else would it have done?

Well, Wright came up with the Mets midway through the 2004 season, right about the time Allard Baird was demanding a major league ready third baseman and catcher for Carlos Beltran. With Wright ready to go at third, Baird’s demands would not have included a third baseman (Allard suffered from tunnel vision, but he wasn’t an idiot).

As the Beltran sweepstakes heated up, the Yankees offered Robinson Cano and Dioner Navarro for the Royals’ centerfielder (also reportedly offered at the same time by the Red Sox were Kevin Youkilis and Kelly Shoppach, but that’s a story for another scenario). Would the Royals have pulled the trigger on that deal if Wright was ready to take over at third base? Let’s say yes.

Okay, so now the Royals have David Wright at third base and, beginning in 2005, have Robinson Cano and his career line of .306/.339/.480 at second. Cano signed a four year/$30 million extension before the 2008 season, but even if the Royals were not prepared to do so, they would still have Robinson under control for the 2010 season. Assuming Kansas City did get Wright signed to a Met’s like extension in 2007 and signed Cano, too, they would be paying $19 million for their second and third basemen in 2010.

Navarro has had a choppy career at best and might not have prevented the signing of either Miguel Olivo or Jason Kendall, so we’ll just leave the catching position as is in this scenario.

Now, with Wright playing third starting in mid-2004 and Cano manning second starting in 2005, it is pretty hard to believe the Royals would have chosen Alex Gordon with the second overall pick in the 2005 draft. In fact, they probably would not have considered Ryan Zimmerman or Ryan Braun, either, but they might well have looked at a shortstop considered the most ‘major league ready’ player of that draft: Troy Tulowitzki. Beginning in late 2006, Tulowitzki has hit .283/.357/.474 as the Rockies’ everyday shortstop. He had an injury plagued 2008, but a big year last season (.930 OPS). Sure, those numbers are inflated by playing in Denver half the time, but tell me you don’t want him in a Royals’ uniform.

So, beginning in 2007, Kansas City could put an infield of Cano, Tulowitzki and Wright….and Ross Gload on the diamond. At that time, all three players’ salary load was low enough that I do not think it would have prevented the Royals from signing Gil Meche. As an aside, how many wins does Meche get in 2007 with those three guys hitting for him? Or how many does Greinke get in 2009? Twenty-eight?!

Fast forward to 2008 and assume that Wright and Cano have signed the extensions referenced above, plus Tulowitzki has signed his six year/$31 million dollar deal at the same time as Cano. That would almost certainly have kept Kansas City from pursuing Jose Guillen…or at least have kept their offer considerably below the three year/$36 million mark! By the way, with Tulowitzki in the fold, the Royals would be paying the Cano-Tulowitzki-Wright combo $22.5 million in 2010. Take Guillen’s $12 million out, plus the four to Kyle Farnsworth and that gets pretty doable.

Throw Billy Butler into the mix at first base and the Royals would be looking forward to 2010 with arguably the best infield in baseball. Sure, the Cano-Butler combination on the right side of the infield is not a defensive strongpoint, but Tulowitzki-Wright is above average.

The Royals would not have any real money to play with this off-season, which might have precluded the Kendall signing (boo-hoo!), but probably would not have kept them from getting Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel. The pitching staff, probably minus the Farnsworth albatross, would be the same (actually better in the addition by subtraction way of thinking) and the spectre of Jose Guillen would not be an issue.

Maybe all this still does not make the Royals championship contenders, but I would wager it certainly puts them in the mix for the playoffs. It is all an exercise in fantasy without question, but it does point out how just one pick…ONE PICK…might have changed the course of a franchise.

With about a week remaining until camps open, now is as good a time as any to take stock of the AL Central and see how the Royals rivals have done this winter. We know all about the Royals additions Scotty Pods, Ankiel, the South Side duo of Getz & Fields (or Fields & Getz) and the Punchless One behind the plate. How do the Royals moves stack up against their division rivals? Has anyone done enough to run away with the title, or will it be another close one?

And most importantly, how will everything shake out once the dust settles in October.

What follows is a brief capsule of each team in the Central and how the moves they’ve made effect their title chances. At the end of the article, you’ll find my current (in other words, subject to change) picks for the order of finish.

Chicago White Sox

This is where the strongest rotation in the Central lives. Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and a healthy Jake Peavy will be difficult for any other division rival to top. Hell, that could be the best rotation in baseball. Plus, those four can rack up the innings so if the Sox can get some quality work out of newcomer JJ Putz in the eighth and Bobby Jenks in the ninth, they’re going to get some wins no matter how bad the offense is.

Speaking of the offense, what exactly is going on here? Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Omar Vizquel are all newcomers who will certainly have some impact on the team, but it s not going to be positive. Pierre will have the most opportunity to do some damage as he figures to slide into left and will certainly bat leadoff. He s a player only Ozzie could love. Jones and Vizquel are backups although it s not difficult to imagine Jones could get some playing time if Alex Rios can t rediscover his stroke.

Once upon a time, I had a man-crush on Rios. I really bought into the hype that he was going to be one of the best young outfielders in the game. Now? Not so much. That’s what back to back underwhelming seasons will get you at Royals Authority – no more respect. And since Rios was downright horrible last year after his move to the South Side (.199/.229/.301 in 154 plate appearances) he s the leading candidate for Ozzie Guillen s Dog House. How great would it be if Jones reports to camp fat and Rios continues to forget how to hit? Imagine the quote gold we’d get from Guillen. And that it would be happening to the White Sox would be a bonus.

Cleveland Indians

We’ve said it before, but it just has to suck to have surrendered CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee and gotten so little in return. Matt LaPorta will get an opportunity to start, as will Lou Marson, so it’s probably still a little early to completely trash the trades, but still… Quite a bummer for Indian fans.

There’s still hope for Cleveland fans that Grady Sizemore will bounce back and Shin-Soo Choo can build off his breakout year. And maybe Travis Hafner can hit 20 bombs. Although he hasn’t done that since 2007. They picked up Austin Kearns and Shelley Duncan on minor league deals, which I suppose could help at some point. Other than that, their big major league move was to sign Mike Redmond. In this case, big is a relative term.

But the pitching even with Lee for half the summer the Indians had the second worse staff in baseball. And now they tentatively have Jake Westbrook penciled in as their number one starter with Fausto Carmona as their number two. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d prefer someone else at the top of the rotation other than a guy who hasn’t pitched in a year and a half after undergoing the Tommy John surgery. And with Kerry Wood at the back of the pen, this staff looks like it will once again flop to the bottom of the AL.

Oh, the Indians will likely have the lowest payroll in the division come Opening Day.

Detroit Tigers

The Verlander extension got a ton of ink, but that masks a simple fact about this team: They are extremely unbalanced with old players (Magglio Ordonez, Adam Everett, Brandon Inge) and newcomers (Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore are currently listed at the top of the Tigers depth chart in center and second, respectively.) That’s a potentially combustible mix.

I see some similarities with the Royals here: A lockdown top of the rotation ace (Verlander for the Tigers and Greinke for the Royals) and a big bat in his prime in the middle of the order (Miguel Cabrera and Billy Butler.) The Tiger veterans are a little better than the Royal veterans, but that just means they cost more.

Further, it will be interesting to see where Max Scherzer figures into the Tigers pitching mix. For now, he’s slated for the rotation but many feel his future lies in the bullpen. One thing is for sure, with Verlander and Scherzer in the rotation the Tigers will be making a ton of hitters look foolish. While Porcello doesn’t pile up the strikeouts, he is developing into a talent. Beyond that, there are a ton of question marks for the rest of the staff. For Tiger fans that’s nothing out of the ordinary.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins overhauled the middle of their infield by trading for JJ Hardy in November and then acquiring free agent Orlando Hudson just last week. Both players represent upgrades from the players they are replacing. Hardy is superior with the glove and is a prime candidate for an offensive rebound from his dismal 2009. He has 20 home run power, but before we project any power numbers, it will be interesting to see how the Twins new outdoor stadium plays. Hudson is solid with the glove, with better range to his left than back up the middle. Offensively, this is a huge win for the Twins. Last summer, their 2B hit a combined .209/.302/.267. Yuck. That s Royals designated hitter territory. (Memo to Dayton: Check on the availability of Matt Tolbert!) Hudson will have no problem improving upon that production.

Last year, the Twins had an extremely productive offense – one of the best in the league. Their 5 runs per game was the fourth best rate in the AL, behind the other three playoff teams. (Yankees, Angels and Red Sox were one, two and three respectively.) I suppose we can expect a little less from MVP Joe Mauer and the Twins still are going to give some at bats to Delmon Young. Still, you have to admit the Twins have improved their offense.

The big mystery is the aforementioned Target Field. Past years, the Twins held a distinct home field advantage and knew exactly how to tailor their club to the Metrodome. Now, it’s anyone s guess.

Quick Summary

The division still belongs to the Twins who were able to upgrade an already solid offense. The Sox could pose a threat with their rotation, but haven’t replaced the power they lost when Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome left as free agents. It feels like the Tigers are looking toward the future and the Indians are hoping a pitching staff cobbled together with spit and duct tape holds up.

The Royals haven’t done much to improve their team but it’s not difficult to envision a scenario where they finish third. That’s an optimistic, if everything goes right, best-case scenario finish.

So here’s my predicted order of finish in the Central. I ll revisit this about a week before the season starts and make changes as necessary before submitting my final selection just prior to Opening Day.

1. Twins
2. White Sox
3. Tigers
4. Royals
5. Indians

Okay, let’s get the ‘Scott Podsednik’s wife in a bikini at every game’ out of the way right now.

There is a very high level of the ‘winter doldrums’ descending on the Royals’ blogsosphere as we wait for spring training to begin. Part of that is it is simply that time of year and part is that the Royals made a number of moves this off-season, almost none of which were of the exciting variety.

Last week, we took a quick look at my perception of the 25 man roster that is likely to break camp at the end of March. Last Friday, the official Royals site had comments from Trey Hillman that included, but were not limited to:

  • Getz will be a second baseman first, then shortstop.
  • Callaspo will be at second, then short
  • Fields will be a third baseman and some left field and we might throw him over to right, too.

In the discussion of trying Getz at shortstop (a position Chris claims to have played a lot ‘pretty decently’ in the minors), Hillman also talked about waiting for Mike Aviles to get healthy, but never once mentioned Yuniesky Betancourt.

While all that is moderately intriguing and certainly gives us indication that we might see the same lineup two days in a row, maybe three times all next year, it probably does not make many of you any more excited about 2010 then my discussion of the 25 man roster did last Monday.

So, today, what would make you excited? Let me focus that a little more: what ONE move could be made by the Royals that would get you excited about 2010? This move could be an acquisition, a signing, maybe even just a position change or promotion of a minor leaguer. Is there one?

While no one move is going to vault this team into contention, I think it might be possible to at least raise hopes that we have something to look forward to in 2010 besides Zack Greinke every fifth day and hoping to avoid 100 losses. Maybe there is no one move that will generate interest beyond the usual anticipation of a new season, but throw some out there because I want to be interested.

We’re in that annual lull before pitchers and catchers report. That’s something like 13 days away. Not that we’re counting.

To pass the time, here are some random questions. Feel free to let loose in the comments. Maybe we can get some solid debate going.

– Are there any remaining free agents you would like the Royals to sign? You have to imagine anyone left at this point wouldn’t bust the budget, although some (Johnny Damon) still harbor illusions of a multi-year, many multi-million dollar deal. Other interesting names include Carlos Delgado (coming off an injury) and Jarrod Washburn (coming off a spectacular flameout for the Tigers.) Of course, the three I mentioned would still stretch the Royals budget, so maybe we have to look a little harder for some less expensive talent.

Is there anyone out there who catches your eye?

– What current Royal prospect excites you the most? I d have to go with Wil Myers but I’m extremely intrigued by Aaron Crow Hopefully, we’ll get to see him face some major league hitters early in camp.

– Will Trey Hillman make it through the season? This was one of Kaegel’s 10 questions last month and it was the only one of the 10 that was relevant.

Can you see any scenario where he get s the axe next summer? Will it be a double digit losing streak or a slow start or a 90 loss season that will doom the Royals skipper? Or is he safe and certain to return in 2011?

– What pre-season type books will you purchase? I m thinking of books like Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America Prospect Handbook and of course, the Royals Authority Annual (details forthcoming!) Can’t forget magazines, too. I used to buy Bill Mazeroski s annual every spring and read it during spring break. I think I still have a bunch at my parent’s house in a box somewhere.

– With the announcement of Apple’s iPad last week, MLB.com was present to tout their MLB.tv deal and how sweet it will look on the new device. Now, when you visit the official Royals site or the MLB.com front page, you’re greeted with an invitation to buy MLB.tv for the 2010 season. I bought MLB.tv last year for the first time and was incredibly disappointed. The high def feeds dropped way too often and the condensed games were too slow in appearing once the game was over and the DVR feature was non-existent. By May, I was wishing I had paid for the Extra Innings package on Time Warner. That s how much I hated MLB.tv I was thinking I should have given more cash to Time Freaking Warner.

So now my question is, should I give MLB.tv a second chance? And if you’re going to buy a package for the full season, are you going to go with Extra Innings on cable or MLB.tv on your computer?

Time to hit the comments. Answer all, answer one or answer none. Or ask your own question.

A couple of links to pass your time:

Fan Exchange is aggregating various projections into a kind of super-projection. As an added bonus, you can make your own projections for the 2010 season and then store your numbers on the site and revisit them during the season. You can also create a group and compete with other prognosticators to see who has the clearest crystal ball.

Here are the current Royals projections for hitters. At first glance these look pretty solid.

Diamond Futures is a site dedicated to prospects that recently ranked the Royals as the 12th best system in baseball. Like other prospect sites, they rank the top prospects. However, they give hitters scores weighted by league and other factors for power, discipline and speed while pitchers are scored on dominance, stamina and control. They take all that and plug it into a system to project future success. It s an interesting system that – for you prospect hounds out there – is well worth your time.

The end result is a letter grade assigned to players. Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow received A grades, placing them in the top 1% of all minor leaguers.

– Rany has a riff on the quote from a Royals official who said everybody thought we had the greatest offseason in the history of whatever. He then proceeds to post several links of negative reaction about the Jacobs trade and the Farnsworth signing among others as proof that not everyone felt that way. However, I fear the joke is on Rany because the Royals don t have the internet.

Still, that quote is alarming on many levels.

This morning, I am going to run through a quick exercise in constructing the Royals’ twenty-five man roster for the coming season. My guess is that almost everyone who reads any Royals’ blog has already done this in one form or another, but I have serious doubts that the Royals’ front office has.

Okay, sure, we know that is total sarcasm, but seriously I think the Royals have a firm idea on the 40 man roster, but only a vague ‘things will work themselves out’ idea as to the 25 they will break camp with. You can make an argument that this is the perfect way to go into spring training and I would generally agree, but I do wonder if a ‘small budget’ club like the Royals can assemble and pay for 30+ guys to compete for their 25 spots?

The catching position is pretty simple: Jason Kendall starts, Brayan Pena watches. The hope is that Kendall is an upgrade defensively and in handling the pitchers, while not just destroying you at the plate. If he can get on base at even a .340 clip, throw runners out and get along with Greinke and Meche, he might be tolerable. In Pena, the Royals have a switch-hitter who might log some time at DH. I wish the team had given Pena two months of everyday duty last year to find out if he really is THAT bad behind the plate, but that ship has sailed. Manny Pina, acquired from Texas last year, is the next in line, but his bat is not ready for the bigs (and may never be). He is, should everything go to hell, probably the best defensive catcher in the organization. At any rate, it’s Kendall and Pean: that’s two.

The corner infield positions are pretty clear: Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. What happens after that is a mystery. The Royals acquired Josh Fields as part of the Mark Teahen trade, making rumblings about Fields playing a corner outfield spot, but that has gone by the wayside with the signings of Podsednik and Ankiel. Out of options, Fields will be on the 25 man roster come April, likely as the backup third baseman and part-time designated hitter. That’s three more guys, for a total of five.

We will jump out to the outfield at this point. I shudder to think how the team is going to actually arrange David DeJesus, Rick Ankeil and Scott Podsednik defensively, but we all know that those will be the three outfielders and that they will play everyday. The signing of Ankiel brought out the semi-public announcement that Jose Guillen would be the club’s primary designated hitter – something Jose probably has not yet heard and won’t like when he does. While the ‘just cut him’ plan of action is certainly appealing and maybe even logical, it is hard to see the Royals doing so. There’s four players, four veterans mind you, that will be on the team in April, bringing us to a total of nine on our roster.

Okay, middle infield will be…deep breathe…Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop and somebody else. Of course, the Teahen trade also brought Chris Getz over and the expectation is that he will be an upgrade defensively at second over Alberto Callaspo. However, with Guillen moving to DH (not to mention Fields), playing Getz at second leaves few places for Callaspo to play. As much as I hate watching Alberto field, I do love watching him hit. The other glaring problem is that keeping Betancourt, Getz and Callaspo leaves no room for Willie Bloomquist. We all know that’s not going to happen (besides, Willie is the only one who can play short). The wild card in this equation is Mike Aviles. My guess is that Aviles will not be ready at the start of the season and will open the year on the disabled list.

We will assume that the Royals will open the year with a 12 man pitching staff or move to that sooner rather than later. Although he has options left, it is hard for me to believe Dayton Moore traded Mark Teahen for a bench player and a guy who is going to play in Omaha. That leaves Getz on the roster, with Callaspo and Bloomquist who, for all his faults, can fill the role of both fourth outfielder and utility infielder. With Betancourt, that makes four for a total of thirteen.

That means Brian Anderson, all $700,000 of him, is in AAA and Mitch Maier, out of options, might be somewhere else come April. The schedule might allow the team to open with eleven pitchers, so it could be Mitch and the organization a couple of weeks to sort out what to do, but by the end of April, barring a trade or simply cutting bait with Guillen, Mitch will be off the Royals’ big league roster.

Now, onto the pitching staff. The starting rotation right now will be Greinke, Meche, Bannister, Hochevar and either Kyle Davies or Robinson Tejeda. There are rumblings about the Royals fishing for a veteran, which would likely be the end of Davies and push Tejeda back to the pen. Right now, though, my money is on Tejeda as the number five starter. At any rate, that’s five guys, so we are up to eighteen total, now.

The bullpen will have Joakim Soria and Juan Cruz at the backend, with Kyle Farnsworth available for blow-out work (what a fine use of funds, by the way). Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna is all but guaranteed a spot, which fills four of the seven spots.

I would be pretty amazed if veteran journeyman Matt Herges does not get a spot. Just a hunch, but I think he will trade it that number 77 for a real baseball number by April. I am also hoping beyond all hope that the Royals give and Carlos Rosa earns a spot in the bullpen this year. Rosa, performing as I hope he might, is the guy who makes what Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth do irrelevant.

That leaves one final spot (assuming Tejeda is the fifth starter) up for grabs between Ramon Colon, Victor Marte, Dusty Hughes and all the non-roster invitees. Throw Herges into this mix if you want and say this group is fighting for two roster spots. It doesn’t much matter how it ends up, but that’s seven relievers, twelve pitchers and a 25 man roster.

Now, in reading all this, how likely do you think it is that all of Chris Getz, Jose Guillen and Alberto Callaspo break camp with the Royals? You could throw David DeJesus into that mix as well as he is likely the most tradable of all the Royals’ position players. Barring trades or another free agent signing, I would put pretty good money on the 25 players outlined above.

Part of me is pretty certain Dayton Moore has two more moves on his agenda that will make the real 25 man roster different from the above. All of me is hoping that is the case.

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Thursday was PECOTA day in the internet baseball universe as it was the day Baseball Prospectus unveiled their annual projections. Perhaps most famous for calling Tampa s jump from worst to first in 2008, the PECOTAs have long been the standard by which other projections have been measured.

I m beginning to wonder what all the fuss is about.

This isn t about the Royals won-loss projection or about their position in the AL Central. Let s take care of this right away. Here s how PECOTA says the Central will play out.

Pecota_Standings

At this stage in the winter, I can t quibble with the standings. The Twins added a couple decent bats and it seems like none of the five has done a damn thing to improve their rotations. So it figures the standings would remain bunched together for yet another season. They should call it the AL Status Quo.

However, I don t think that 82 wins will take the division. Last year, the Twins won the division with 87 wins and I expect the same number will be required, give or take a couple of wins. It also seems like either the White Sox or the Tigers could leapfrog the Twins and take control of the division. At this point, it wouldn t be a surprise if any of the top three teams took the crown. The Indians win total seems wildly optimistic.

The Royals projection seems correct.

So my issue with PECOTA this year isn t with the standings, although the won-loss records could use some adjusting. My issue is with the expected offense.

PECOTA is on the juice. Check how their projection for runs scored fits into the 10 year run scoring trend. The following graph represents the total runs scored in the AL for each year since 2000. The 2010 number on the right is the PECOTA projection.

Pecota_Runs

Wow. It s projecting 11,656 runs will be scored in the American League. If that happened, it would be the second most since 2000, when 11,995 runs crossed the plate. After some uh, inflated numbers in the late nineties, the trend seems to be fewer runs. This projection calls for a substantial increase of over 700 runs. While that s a huge number, it s not unprecedented. A similar jump occurred from 95 to 96. (Don t worry, I adjusted for the shortened 95 season.)

Last year, the league average for runs scored was 781. PECOTA says every team but the Toronto Blue Jays will outscore the 2009 AL average.

It s the same story with OBP. Last year, the average AL team posted a .336 on base percentage. PECOTA says every team will top that except the poor Jays.

For the Royals they rank the top hitters as follows:

Butler – .297/.370/.489
DeJesus – .294/.379/.433
Callaspo – .298/.363/.422
Gordon – .263/.352/.433
Ankiel – .257/.323/.470

In short, they don t buy Callaspo s power surge from last year, they expect DeJesus to get on base at a much better clip than ever before (his career high OBP is .366) and they re looking for Gordon to basically repeat his 2008 season.

Overall, they have the Royals down for a .346 OBP and a .424 slugging percentage. Those are both big increases from 2009 when they posted a .318 OBP and a .405 slugging percentage. Objectively, I ask you to look at this lineup compared to last year s and tell me if you think they ve improved that much. I ll go ahead and call my shot right now and say they ll be within five points of both stats. They re not going to improve their OBP by 28 points. Not with Yuniesky Betancourt and Jason Kendall anchoring the bottom of the order. That s insane.

How about the pitching? Would you be interested to know they project a 4.82 ERA and 1.51 WHIP for Gil Meche? Or more alarmingly, a 4.01 ERA and 1.35 WHIP for Zack Greinke?

Are you kidding?

If Greinke has an ERA over 3.50, I ll be so depressed I won t be able to get out of bed. That s a helluva regression.

But hang on. Do you know what PECOTA projected for Greinke in 2009? A 4.01 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP! Whew!

OK. This isn t meant to bash PECOTA. All projections have their hits and misses. This is mostly for fun and fantasy baseball players anyway. The BP crew does a nice job getting this info out and standing behind what they do. I can respect that, even if I don t put much stock in it. The offensive numbers they are projecting for 2010 just seem way too high to be realistic. Again, I’m only looking at the league as a whole and the Royals as individuals. There just seem to be some elevated OBP numbers for nearly everyone on the Royals.

Personally, I ve moved on to CHONE for my projections. Of all the projections I revisit, they seem to be closest to the mark with the greatest frequency. For 2010, they have Greinke at a 3.33 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. Yeah, I like that one better.

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This is the final installment in our ‘If Everything Goes Right’ series, focusing on what is perceived to be Kansas City’s organizational strength: starting pitching.

At the major league level in 2010, the starting rotation is likely to look pretty familiar. As we are in ‘everything goes right’ mode, let’s assume that Gil Meche and Brian Bannister are both healthy. That locks down the top three spots as a guy named Greinke, Meche and Bannister. The four and five starters will likely come from the top two spring performances out of Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies and Robinson Tejeda. Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna might figure in, too, but odds are that he will work out of the bullpen this season.

It is possible that Dayton Moore will move, unnecessarily in my opinion, to acquire a veteran arm to put in the rotation (Erik Bedard & Jarrod Washburn have been rumored), but we will not factor that in today.

If Gil Meche returns to his 2007 and 2008 form and Brian Bannister simply performs at the level he did last year (good for 3 or 4 starts, then bad for 3 or 4), then the Royals will send an effective starter to the mound in a minimum of fifty percent of their games. If they can get any sort of improvement out of Luke Hochevar or if Robinson Tejeda really is the guy that pitched so well in August and September last year, then they will enjoy the benefits of a solid rotation.

Solid, maybe even actually good, but not ‘elite’. That part of the equation will still be in the minors in 2010, headed by Aaron Crow.

Crow is likely to start the year in AA and the Royals certainly have to hope that he pitches well enough to warrant a September look in the majors. Will he be ready to take a full-time spot in the rotation to start 2011? Odds are that is pushing it a bit, but it is not without precedence (Jared Weaver anyone?) to see Crow up and in the major league rotation by June of 2011.

If the Royals don’t trade Gil Meche at the deadline in 2010, the readiness of Crow in mid-2011 makes that decision a no-brainer. If, by some stroke of good fortune, Kansas City finds itself in the race in June of 2011, then the addition to Crow in behind Greinke and Meche would certainly be welcome ammunition for a pennant run. I think what Crow does in the first few months of 2010 might even have an impact on the club’s willingness to trade or not trade Meche, but that’s a topic for another day.

Of course, behind Crow (in arrival to the majors, but maybe not in ability once there) are lefties Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy. At 20 years old, Duffy has already completed a full season in High A ball and possesses a minor league resume that inclues 290 strikeouts in 246 innings with a career WHIP of 1.10. Now, many an intriguing arm has gone from dominating the Carolina League to being dominated in the Texas League, but Duffy sure looks like the real deal to me.

While Duffy is almost certain to start the year in Northwest Arkansas, he may or may not be joined by Montgomery. My take, as an impatient Royals fan, is get Montgomery into AA in April, not June, but it would be hard to fault the organization for giving their number one prospect a couple more months of High A seasoning (he split 2009 between the two levels of A ball) before sending him up to AA. No matter where he starts, Montgomery (should everything go right) will end the year dominating AA and be poised to start 2011 in Omaha, where Duffy will surely be as well.

So, now you enter the 2011 season with a rotation of Greinke, Meche, Bannister, Hochevar and Osuna/Tejeda/Lerew/Davies, with Aaron Crow virtually ready to take a spot and Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery heading up the best rotation the Omaha Royals have seen since….ever, maybe. It doesn’t take a ‘baseball man’ to see where that ends up.

How does a late season 2011 starting rotation of Greinke, Crow, Duffy, Montgomery and Meche/Bannister/Hochevar sound? I anticipate that between now and late August of 2011 that two of those last three names will have been traded, but seriously how nice would it be to trade Meche for prospects and have the luxury of Bannister and Hochevar fighting it out for your FIFTH rotation spot instead of your third?

What gets exciting at this point is that the Royals still have Noel Arguelles and Timothy Melville in AAA by 2012, with John Lamb, Chris Dwyer, Kelvin Herrera, Tyler Sample and Keaton Hayenga all in AA. By the way, in 2012, all but Dwyer will be23 years of age or younger and Chris will be just 24.

Of course, we all know that developing young pitching into major league quality is a crap-shoot and the Royals have a history of botching the process. Yet, I have listed a bunch of names and the truth is that by 2013, the Royals will have had to have two completely separate lists of guys all not reach their potential to not have a truly outstanding rotation.

Truthfully, Kansas City needs two out of Aaron Crow, Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy and Luke Hochevar to be take two spots in the rotation (legitimately TAKE, not just win by default, ala Kyle Davies) and two more out of Edgar Osuna, Arguelles, Melville and the rest listed above to take the next two. Those are not bad odds, even for an organization like the Royals.

Certainly, as Royals’ fans, we have reasons for skepticism, but I am asking for four out of twelve guys to become legitimate major league starting pitchers and totally disregarding the presence of Gil Meche and Brian Bannister or what might be gained from trading one or both at some point in the next two seasons.

Give me the dice, I’ll roll with those odds.

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You are looking at a puzzle. It s a simple puzzle, really. Three pieces. That s it. Your job is to assemble these three pieces in a way that makes the most sense.

This is the task facing Dayton Moore as he tries to piece together his outfield for the upcoming season. Things like this happen when you have Mitch Maier on your roster and go ahead and sign Brian Anderson, who is http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3529/3770636413_848e3d2c9c_m.jpgbasically the same player as Maier. And then you sign Scott Podsednik, who is only marginally better than Anderson. Then you sign Rick Ankiel, who is better offensively than all the aforementioned, but now throws the outfield situation into a jumble. Add David DeJesus and you have five outfielders for three positions. Wondering where everyone is going to play? You re not alone.

Apparently, Moore has it all figured out. His outfield will have Podsednik in left, Ankiel in center and DeJesus in right.

“We feel that right now, going into spring training, this is the best way to position our outfield defense,” Moore said. “These three guys are all capable of playing center field. We felt Rick’s best use is to put him in center field at this time.”

So the Royals wanted Ankiel so bad, they promised him center field? Did they even bother to see if that s, you know His best position? Because it s not.

This outfield mumbo jumbo reminds me of the Jose Guillen signing from 2008. Remember, Guillen had been a right fielder for most of his career, but the Royals decided he would play left. Only, they forgot to tell Guillen this fact. I guess they learned from that mistake and went ahead and handed center to Ankiel during negotiations. And according to Ankiel, the Yankees were finalists for his signature. The Yankees! Do you want to compete with Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher for a role in the outfield and what seems to be a virtual lock on a spot in the postseason, or do you want to be handed the center field job on a fifth place team for one year that s treading water until the prospects (hopefully) develop? Honestly, I question Ankiel s sanity.

Later in the press conference, Moore claimed the Royals have the best defensive outfield in the AL Central. Of course they are going to say crap like that. What do you think they re going to say? Uh, we re just kind of throwing things randomly out there. We ll see what happens. Fingers crossed, it will work out.

Apparently, the Royals are excited because they have what amounts to three center fielders in their outfield. That s great, except for this simple fact: They aren t very good center fielders to begin with. None of these guys will be mistaken for Franklin Gutierrez or BJ Upton. They won t even be confused with Aaron Rowand or Shane Victorino. These are ordinary, average to below average defensive outfielders.

(Certainly, any time you can remove Jose Guillen from the outfield mix, you have addition through subtraction. Throw three chairs out there and your defense is better. But, still…)

Only the Royals, coming off a year where the team was horrible defensively and in a winter where there stated goal was to improve their defense, would move their best defensive player from the previous season. Are you kidding? Sometimes, you wonder if the guys running this team even watch the games.

Let s play a game. Let s try to fill the Royals outfield with their preferred starting three. We ll look at career UZR/150 at all positions across the outfield. Take the ratings for right field with a grain of salt. That s because in their careers, DeJesus has played 166 innings in right, while Ankiel has played 383 innings and Podsednik has played just 124 innings. The Rng is career range in the outfield. The ARM is the outfield arm rating for their career. Both Rng and ARM are presented as collected by FanGraphs. I adjusted the ARM rating (since it s a counting stat) by 1,000 innings played.

OF_Defense

These are the pieces of our puzzle. Let s start assembling this sucker.

Since centerfield is the most important of the three outfield positions and there s only one of the three players who has a positive UZR/150 in center, I ll go with Player B. Although right field is more important defensively on the defensive spectrum, I ll place the left fielder next, if only because again, none of the three has spent much time at all in right. Since it looks like my best left fielder is also my best center fielder, I have to go with my second choice. Looks like it s going to be Player A. Hang on though. Player A has the least range and has the best arm of the bunch. That seems like he s taylor made for right field. And since Player C has some decent range and the weakest arm of my group, it seems like it s natural to put him in left while positioning Player A in right.

Time to unveil my starting outfield.

Player C is Scott Podsednik, who I would play in left field.

Player B is David DeJesus, who I would play in center.

Player A is Rick Ankiel, who can have right.

See how simple that is?

This confirms my gut assessment of watching all these guys play over the last couple of years. Ankiel lacks the range to play center, but has an arm that can make a difference in right. Podsednik has a weak arm and occasionally takes some bizarre routes on fly balls which makes left his best fit. And while DeJesus has lost a step in the last year or so and doesn t have the greatest range, he s still the best of this group, so that makes him the center fielder.

And let s take a moment for a defensive spectrum refresher. From left to right, the most important defensive position to the least important:

C-SS-2B-CF-3B-RF-LF-1B

So according to this, center field is the most important defensive position in the outfield. And according to my numbers, Rick Ankiel is the least qualified of the three starters to player center. Therefore, since this is the Royals, Rick Ankiel will be the starting center fielder. Are you kidding me?

Look, anytime you can construct an outfield that doesn t include Jose Guillen or Willie Bloomquist, that s a win. And as I mentioned before, when you remove Guillen s glove you re automatically improving the defense. I haven’t mentioned Maier, because it’s clear he isn’t in the plans for the future. Although he could probably provide the same production as Podsednik, Moore has chosen to spend a couple million when he could have had the same thing for under $500k.

Regardless, this has a chance of being a decent defensive outfield. Not great. Good. And certainly better than last year.

Except Moore is doing his best to screw everything up.

Moore has failed Roster Construction 101 time and again. Now, his oddball collection of middle infielders has been replaced by a strange group of outfield misfits. Initially, I was on board with the Ankiel signing because I thought he could be an asset. Now, it seems he ll serve to make the Royals weaker defensively up the middle. I have officially given up on having faith in Moore building a roster at the major league level. In his four winters here, he s shown exactly zero aptitude in putting together a group of 25 players that have defined roles that make any kind of sense.

The Ankiel signing (and positioning) is the latest in a long list of evidence.

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There’s not much that needs to be said on the Rick Ankiel signing that Craig, Rany and Will have not already covered. Truthfully, Dayton Moore is batting .500 on my ledger for the off-season. I like the Teahen for Getz/Fields trade, don’t mind the Ankiel signing, am rather unenthusiastic about Scott Podseknik and completely bored (rapidly becoming angered with each new signing of a catcher across the league) with the Jason Kendall signing.

The current roster construction has led even Craig into my world of conspiratorial theories with each acquisition. He, along with many others, will join those of us who have waited for the ‘follow up trade’ to these moves for the entirety of the Dayton Moore era. One of these days, there actually will be an accompanying move that ties all the preceding signings into an actual logical thought process…….maybe.

Anyway, let’s move on in our ‘If Everything Goes Right’ series and quickly cover the bullpen before we finish up with the starting rotation on Wednesday.

While most agree that the potential starting pitching depth in the Royals’ system is THE strength of the organization, I would offer that the stable of relievers, while not near as exciting, is almost as promising. Of course, the very nature of relievers means that trades, signings, implosions and resurrections of careers will be commonplace in this area over the next three years. For the Royals, as long as none of the four occurrences are mentioned in the same sentence as Joakim Soria, the bullpen will at least have a star to close out games. Now, getting there is another thing entirely.

Barring a catastrophic injury, the Royals should be able to count on one of top five closer in baseball to anchor the back of their bullpen from now until at least 2013. Soria’s injury troubles early last season probably put an end to any speculation of him becoming a starter at some point, so let’s just assume that Joakim stays healthy and remains effective (I can’t see him faltering if he stays healthy – in fact, I see him becoming even better) for the next four seasons.

Who fills the spots in front of Soria in 2010 remains something of a mystery for right now, but if everything goes right, Juan Cruz bounces back with a dominant first half setting up Soria and is shipped out for something of use at the trade deadline. I trade Cruz because he is expendable due to the emergence of Carlos Rosa as the primary setup man for years to come. Rosa had some struggles last year, but he can be dominant and possesses maybe the best fastball in the organization. Having struck out nine plus batters per nine innings, there is little left for him to prove in AAA.

If Rosa emerges in 2010 as THAT guy, then the bullpen picture gets easier down the line: with Rosa and Soria, we have nailed down the 8th and 9th innings for 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Now, there will be a lot of guys coming and going during this timeframe. The nature of the bullpen means you’ll have the Dusty Hughes, Matt Herges, Ramon Colons of the world, with yet to be named veterans, journeymen and promising young arms all coming and going. What will will focus on here is the guys who will come up and hopefully stick to fill out the pen.

For mid to late 2010, that means an arrival of the two Chris’: Hayes and Nicoll.

Submariner Chris Hayes is something of a blogosphere icon: loved and hated. In fact, it has kind of become the cool thing for the ‘knowledgeable’ fan to say Hayes is nothing but hype. I don’t buy it. As long as there are just a handful of submarining pitchers in the game, I think the likes of Hayes has a use in a bullpen. Sandwiched between fairly traditional fastball/curve starters and Carlos Rosa throwing 97 in the 8th, I think a change of pace guy like Chris Hayes has a real role. While he struggled enough in Omaha late last season to make one think that Hayes is more of a middle inning guy than a seventh or eighth inning pressure guy, I like him in the Royals pen by mid-season and sticking there in one role or another for several years.

Chris Nicoll, who has already flamed out as a starter and come back to life as a reliever, is a more traditional pitcher, but one with potential to pair up with Rosa in the later innings. Nicoll was not able to duplicate his 4.5 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio of 2008, but still had fashioned a nice season in AA (58 K in 61 innings) before struggling in Omaha. Due to roster problems, however, Nicoll started in five of the six games he appeared in at AAA and I expect a few months back in his relief role might have the big club looking to him for a mid-season promotion in 2010.

The Royals, should it all go right, could then open 2011 with a bullpen of Soria, Rosa, Nicoll and Hayes (probably Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna, too, but there is talk of him as a starter, also). That group would look for mid-season additions from Greg Holland (183 K in 172 innings) who has gone from rookie ball to AAA in three seasons, and quirky Louis Coleman. Just drafted last year, Coleman pitched at both levels of A-ball last year, striking out 22 in 21 innings and allowing just 10 hits. He projects as a fast mover through the system, so I don’t think relief appearances by mid-2011 are out of the question.

Coming along behind those two would be Henry Barrera, who was good enough to earn a 40 man roster spot last winter only to have his 2009 season washed away by injuries. A huge strikeout guy, Barrera could join or even replace Rosa as the primary set-up man….if everything breaks right.

Also expect undrafted Barry Bowden to be along in this timeframe as well. All Bowden has done since being bypassed by all 30 teams through 50 separate rounds is strike 125 batters in 95 innings while allowing just 61 hits. He finished up in High A last year and will be in AA to start 2010. He could be in the majors by late 2011.

Already, by spring of 2012, I have more guys than fit in a bullpen (even Trey Hillman’s bullpen), which is a good sign, because not everything does or will go right. Yet, we have not brought Blake Wood, Jason Godin, Blaine Hardy, Patrick Keating or Brandon Sisk into the discussion, either.

Bottom line, I like the arms in the system that profile out as relievers over the next two to three years. I like them enough to believe that any contract to a veteran reliever that is more than a one year deal is simply a bad idea. Trading for bullpen help? I like that idea even less. The nice thing about the bullpen situation is that, unlike the tremendous potential of the minor league starters, a lot of these guys are months, not years, away from the majors.